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First Person: In defense of 'Happy Days' ' 'Jump the Shark' episode

Contrary to pop culture belief, when Fonzie jumped the shark, it hardly marked the demise of the show.

September 03, 2010|By Fred Fox Jr., Special to the Los Angeles Times

Interestingly enough, nowhere in any discussions or articles on the subject of jump the shark did I ever find my name associated with it. So, really, the only people who knew I wrote the episode were those on the show and my friends and family. But I knew. I have to admit, there was a time I was embarrassed. I was Hester Prynne reincarnated, walking around with a scarlet "S" on the front of my shirt, facing accusing glances and stifled snickering. But this feeling passed quickly, and I likened the popularity to a new fad, where someone jumps on the proverbial bandwagon and soon everyone is doing it, for no rhyme or reason, like the riding the mechanical bull craze. It was ludicrous. All I could do was laugh.

Fortunately, my career didn't jump the shark after "jump the shark." When "Happy Days" ended, I went directly to the ABC Paramount hit show "Webster" and, after that, wrote and produced, among others, "It's Your Move," "He's the Mayor, "The New Leave It to Beaver" and "Family Matters." In 1987, Brian Levant and I created the action comedy "My Secret Identity," which won an International Emmy.

Now that so much time has passed, it's clear that "jump the shark" is no mere fad. It has become a part of the American lexicon. I often hear or read the phrase and run into people who know it. Some of them aren't even aware of the origin. It is unfathomable to me that the shark still has its bite.

But so does our show. The day after I started writing this article, my sister Jan was meeting our friend Vicki at a movie screening. Jan mentioned I had written the episode of "Happy Days" where Fonzie jumped the shark and was working on a piece about it for the Los Angeles Times. A young man in his 20s at the reception table overheard and looked at her in disbelief. "Your brother wrote the jump the shark episode?" he said. "Awesome!"

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